Two weeks ago on Sunday, I had a day to chew on all that I had been learning and receiving in the first week of EMS' Summer Institute for Spiritual Formation. I was up early enough to watch the sun rise. During the morning I sat out on my cousin's patio, watching the play of sunshine and shadow over the rolling hills, while my heart mourned with the community of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina and the devastations of generations of racism.
(To get a taste of the sunshine and shadows, watch the slideshow immediately below. These were recorded at 30-60 second intervals. If you're viewing this on a mobile device, you may need to go to the actual website in order to see the series.)
After time with relatives in the afternoon, I returned to the patio at sunset, watching the slow unfurling of clouds on the mountains, and the glow of the setting sun on them. In retrospect, it seems a highly appropriate way to have spent the longest day of the year -- even if I didn't realize it was the summer solstice until I looked at online news late that night.
Simple springtime pleasures -- whether it is reflections of the sun on a golden coreopsis on a sunny morning after a rainy night, or blue sky and green plants reflected in droplets on a blade of grass, or later in the day, the soft pinks of a peony in full bloom, or dandelion seeds just setting sail, or bright coreopsis in early morning sunshine, or phlox in early evening light, spring is a time of beauty in many small things.
(correction -- I thought this was phlox but my wildflower-wise friends tell me it is Dame's Rocket -- phlox has 5 petals, so if you play "She loves me, she loves me not," counting it out on the petals, phlox loves you and Dame's Rocket does not. Dame's Rocket is a European import and considered an invasive species here.)
It's melting now, but earlier in the week we got snow -- nearly a foot of it, making patterns on the trellis and putting a cap on the bird feeders. Frost festooned the garage windows and the temperature fell below John's lower limit for biking to work. I took him in, since I needed the car later in the day, and the sun rose just as I dropped him off. It lit up a gauzy layer of infinitesimal snow crystals in the air, creating rainbows. Or would that be snowbows? I went over to campus to find an open spot for a photo and discovered a rainbow between me and the Music Center. I didn't go in to check for leprechauns -- there were diamond-tipped golden stems right in front of me. Later I went for a walk in the sunshine, enjoying the colors in the midst of all the white and the traces of those who had been out before me.
This weekend was Assembly Mennonite's annual retreat at Camp Friedenswald. John and I went up early, enjoying the drive through the countryside at sunrise, and getting to the fen before the sun had risen over the hill. Neither words nor photos can communicate the wonder of watching the play of light and mist over the wetlands, with trees and grasses slowly coming into view and then lit into fall colors, reflected in the water.
Other leaves caught the sunlight later in the day -- by the lake shore, sumac with tamarac, and a fiery fern. I sat on a pier and watched the nearly transparent minnows drifting in the lake, and then realized what I was mostly seeing was their shadows on the sandy lake bottom.
My miniature iris are in full bloom. When we moved back to Goshen, twenty-five years ago, we house-sat for Gladys Beyler for a few months, while we looked for a house to buy. Gladys had magnificent herb and flower beds, and she passed along the starts to many perennials when we finally had a house. I've got several different iris from her. This week these yellow iris caught my attention. I don't remember noticing that pale purple center before.
These capture the varied weather we've been having -- rain showers, gray skies, more rain, dancing in the wind, and full sunshine. The sun had them shimmering with gold dust.
I grew up with the tradition of an Advent wreath -- four candles, one for each Sunday of Advent, and a candle in the middle. In my childhood, the central candle was always a countdown candle, thanks to the artwork of our neighbor, Grace Krabill.
When our children were little, I went back to her and learned how to paint the candle with a spiral of numbers from 1 - 25 and a scattering of holly leaves and berries. At supper each evening, the children took turns lighting the countdown candle or blowing it out. Then on Sunday evening, we'd carry the wreath to the living room, turn out all the electric lights except for the little ones on the tree, light candles around the room, and ceremoniously light the Advent candles for that week. And we would sing the appropriate number of verses from "O come, O come, Immanuel."
Now that the children are grown and out on their own, we have a Christ-candle in the middle of the wreath, and we sing "O come" in other settings.
On this third Sunday of Advent, I'm hearing the third verse of "O Come" singing through my heart, with its rather mournful melody.
O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer
our spirits by thine advent here;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
and death's dark shadows put to flight.
I'm grieving the deaths in schoolrooms in Connecticut and China. I'm holding awareness of others' gloomy clouds and dark shadows -- illness and loss of loved ones, depression, work and family stresses, discord in home or church or nation, the pain of past events, the challenges of the jolliness of this season.
I'm savoring the words of Zechariah's prophecy from Luke 1:78:
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.
The dawn, or in the words of the King James Version, the dayspring.
For those who sit with the shadow of death this day:
O come, thou Dayspring.
O come, O come, Immanuel.
Immanuel, which means God-with-us -- and which brings me back to the Christ-candle, and the phrase that the Children in Worship program has given us, the phrase that is always repeated at the end of their worship time, as the candle flame is extinguished and the smoke swirls through the room:
The Light that was in one place and one time
is now in all places and all times.
It feels very right to have a Christ-candle in the middle of our Advent wreath, and to be lighting it each evening, even as we also light the Advent candles one at a time, week by week, waiting to celebrate Christmas and the arrival of the Christ-child, the Light who was in one place and time, and now is in all places and all times, the One who can guide us into the way of peace.
The view from our front steps is a prosaic one most of the time -- houses, trees, telephone poles, college buildings, a busy street or traffic backed up waiting for a train.
The sky is still there though, and in recent days, the transition times have been full of color. This morning it was lavender and pink, turning the whole sky rosy.
As I walked over to campus to meet my sister for our morning walk, the refrain from Fiddler on the Roof kept running through my head, quite in keeping with the seasonal metaphor I've been exploring the last while.
swiftly fly the years,
One season following another,
laden with happiness and tears.
And with light and shadow, dark and light. And color.
The combination of morning light, a heavy dew, and fall flowers makes for some glory-filled moments, thanks be to God.
The long-distance views at The Pines Ranch in Westcliffe were delightful, but so were some of the nearer views (and someone with a sense of humor posted that MPH sign on the rather bumpy dirt lane).
I saw a fascinating sunrise this morning. When I came out of the Rec-Fitness Center, the sun had just risen and thanks to a hazy cloud screen, I could see it perched there like a fat, red ball.
When I got over to the parking lot behind the physical plant, my view of the sun was blocked by the Music Center, but there was a white halo making a half-circle around the sun. It reminded me of days when you see sundogs off to either side, but if there were sundogs today, they were hidden by the trees. Instead, there was a bright beam extending vertically, and a bright crown at the apex of the circular halo.
It was less visible by the time I returned with the camera, and my photographic skills weren't up to capturing the sight as adequately as I'd like -- it was full day and much brighter than the photo above appears to be, but this allows you a better view of the halo and crown than some of my other attempts.
From checking out "sun dogs" on that fount of knowledge, Wikipedia, I'm guessing that this is an upper tangent arc, formed by the same sort of hexagonal ice crystals that create sun dogs, but seen when the sun is low. The site says that such arcs are relatively common, but seldom noticed because they are high overhead.
Sounds like a mini-parable right there.
You can see an illustration of tangent arcs at this atmospheric optics site.
"Instructions for living a life:
Tell about it."
Mary Oliver in "Sometimes"
I've taken on a prayer practice of looking for the moments of light in each day, whether actual or metaphorical, and then writing or posting photos of what I find.